Last updated

Examples of the tawse, made in Lochgelly. An exhibit in the Abbot House, Dunfermline. The painting is 'The Dominie Functions' (1826) by George Harvey (1806-1876) Examples of the tawse, made in Lochgelly. An exhibit in the Abbot House, Dunfermline..jpg
Examples of the tawse, made in Lochgelly. An exhibit in the Abbot House, Dunfermline. The painting is 'The Dominie Functions' (1826) by George Harvey (1806-1876)

The tawse, sometimes formerly spelled taws (the plural of Scots taw, a thong of a whip) is an implement used for corporal punishment. It was used for educational discipline, primarily in Scotland, but also in schools in a few English cities e.g. Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, Liverpool, Manchester and Walsall.


A tawse consists of a strip of leather, with one end split into a number of tails. The thickness of the leather and the number of tails is variable. Many Scottish makers of horse tack made tawses for local schoolmasters. The official name "tawse" was hardly ever used in conversation by either teachers or pupils, who instead referred to it as either the school strap or the belt, the normal term for an unforked implement, as worn in trousers (see belt).


Scottish public (state) schools used the tawse to punish pupils of either sex on the palm of the outstretched hand. Pupils were usually instructed to hold out one hand, palm uppermost, supported by the other hand below, which made it difficult to move the hand away during the infliction of the strokes. It also ensured that the full force of each stroke was taken by the hand being strapped. The punishment was usually inflicted by the class teacher in front of the entire class, to act as a deterrent to others; sometimes by a designated teacher, such as the Deputy Headmaster, to whom the pupil was sent.

This was wielded in primary as well as secondary schools for both trivial and serious offences, and girls got belted as well as boys. [1] Nearly 6 in 10 girls were strapped in school. [2]

In Walsall and Gateshead, and in some schools in Manchester and Nottingham, students (mainly male) were tawsed on the seat of the trousers.

Some Scottish private (independent) schools also used the tawse, such as Keil School and St Aloysius' College, Glasgow, but others such as Fettes College used the cane instead, as did most schools in England outside the north-east.

In 1982, two Scottish mothers went to the European Court of Human Rights, who passed a judgment that parents had the right to refuse corporal punishment of a child. [3] This judgement led indirectly to the use of the tawse (and all other forms of corporal punishment) being banned by law in UK state schools. The legislation came into force in 1987, but most Scottish local education authorities had already abolished it by the early 1980s.

John J. Dick Leather Goods was a manufacturer in Lochgelly estimated to have made around 70% of tawses when they were used in schools. [4] [5] Original tawses sold for around £6 in 1982 but twenty years later, some collectors were paying hundreds of pounds each for rare items. [6]


The tawse was also used for judicial corporal punishment in Scotland as an alternative to the more usual birch. Courts could sentence boys of over 14 but under 16 to up to 36 strokes with an extra-heavy tawse for any offence. This was administered to the offender's bare buttocks. Judicial corporal punishment was abolished in 1948.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corporal punishment</span> Form of physical punishment that involves pain

A corporal punishment or a physical punishment is a punishment which is intended to cause physical pain to a person. When it is inflicted on minors, especially in home and school settings, its methods may include spanking or paddling. When it is inflicted on adults, it may be inflicted on prisoners and slaves.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Belt (clothing)</span> Worn band or braid, usually around the waist or hips

A belt is a flexible band or strap, typically made of leather, plastic, or heavy cloth, worn around the natural waist or near it. The ends of a belt are free; and a buckle forms the belt into a loop by securing one end to another part of the belt, at or near the other end. Often, the resulting loop is smaller than the hips. Belts come in many lengths because of the variety in waist sizes, and most belts can be adjusted at the buckle to suit the wearer's waist.

John Swinburne was an American-born Scottish politician who was the founder and leader of the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party (SSCUP). He was that party's only ever representative in the Scottish Parliament, serving as a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the Central Scotland region from 2003 until 2007.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caning</span> Punishment method

Caning is a form of corporal punishment consisting of a number of hits with a single cane usually made of rattan, generally applied to the offender's bare or clothed buttocks or hands. Caning on the knuckles or shoulders is much less common. Caning can also be applied to the soles of the feet. The size and flexibility of the cane and the mode of application, as well as the number of the strokes, vary greatly—from a couple of light strokes with a small cane across the seat of a junior schoolboy's trousers, to up to 24 very hard, wounding cuts on the bare buttocks with a large, heavy, soaked rattan as a judicial punishment in some Southeast Asian countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Birching</span> Type of corporal punishment

Birching is a form of corporal punishment with a birch rod, typically applied to the recipient's bare buttocks, although occasionally to the back and/or shoulders.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cat o' nine tails</span> Type of whip

The cat o' nine tails, commonly shortened to the cat, is a type of multi-tailed whip or flail that originated as an implement for severe physical punishment, notably in the Royal Navy and British Army, and as a judicial punishment in Britain and some other countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Belting (beating)</span>

Belting is the use of belts made of strong materials as a whip-like instrument for corporal punishment. Although also used in educational institutions as a disciplinary measure, it has most often been applied domestically by parents. This practice has now been abolished by most schools, at least in the Western world, as it is seen by many as an abusive and excessive punishment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caning in Singapore</span> Corporal punishment

Caning is a widely used form of corporal punishment in Singapore. It can be divided into several contexts: judicial, prison, reformatory, military, school, and domestic. These practices of caning as punishment were introduced during the period of British colonial rule in Singapore. Similar forms of corporal punishment are also used in some other former British colonies, including two of Singapore's neighbouring countries, Malaysia and Brunei.

Rebenque is the shared name in South American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese for a type of whip used by gauchos in South America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slippering</span> Type of corporal punishment

Slippering is a term for the act of smacking the buttocks, or the hands, with a slipper or a slide as a form of corporal punishment. A slippering on the buttocks is a form of spanking; it is a much more common method than slippering on the hands. The verb "to slipper" means "to give a slippering". Slipperings are particularly associated with Britain and Commonwealth countries, although not exclusively so.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anthony Chenevix-Trench</span> Head Master of Eton

Anthony Chenevix-Trench was a British schoolteacher and classics scholar. He was born in British India, educated at Shrewsbury School and Christ Church, Oxford, and served in the Second World War as an artillery officer with British Indian units in Malaya. Captured by the Japanese in Singapore, he was forced to work on the Burma Railway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Approved school</span> Type of youth prison in the United Kingdom

An approved school was a type of residential institution in the United Kingdom to which young people could be sent by a court, usually for committing offences but sometimes because they were deemed to be beyond parental control. They were modelled on ordinary boarding schools, from which it was relatively easy to leave without permission. This set approved schools apart from borstals, a tougher and more enclosed kind of youth prison.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Strapping (punishment)</span> Type of corporal punishment

Strapping refers to the use of a strap as an implement of corporal punishment. It is typically a broad and heavy strip of leather, often with a hard handle, the more flexible 'blade' being applied to the offender.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caning in Malaysia</span> Corporal punishment

Caning is used as a form of corporal punishment in Malaysia. It can be divided into at least four contexts: judicial/prison, school, domestic, and sharia/syariah. Of these, the first is largely a legacy of British colonial rule in the territories that are now part of Malaysia, particularly Malaya. Similar forms of corporal punishment are also used in some other former British colonies, including two of Malaysia's neighbouring countries, Singapore and Brunei.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">School corporal punishment</span> Form of punishment

School corporal punishment is the deliberate infliction of physical pain as a response to undesired behavior by students. The term corporal punishment derives from the Latin word for the "body", corpus. In schools it may involve striking the student on the buttocks or on the palms of their hands with an implement such as a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slipper, leather strap or wooden yardstick. Less commonly, it could also include spanking or smacking the student with the open hand, especially at the kindergarten, primary school, or other more junior levels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judicial corporal punishment</span> Punitive practice

Judicial corporal punishment (JCP) is the infliction of corporal punishment as a result of a sentence imposed on an offender by a court of law. The punishments include caning, bastinado, birching, whipping, or strapping. The practice was once commonplace in many countries, but over time it has been abolished in most countries, although still remaining a form of legal punishment in some countries including a number of former British colonies and Muslim-majority states.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Campaigns against corporal punishment</span>

Campaigns against corporal punishment aim to reduce or eliminate corporal punishment of minors by instigating legal and cultural changes in the areas where such punishments are practiced. Such campaigns date mostly from the late 20th century, although occasional voices in opposition to corporal punishment existed from ancient times through to the modern era.

<i>Spare the Rod</i> (1961 film) 1961 British film

Spare the Rod is a 1961 British social drama directed by Leslie Norman and starring Max Bygraves, Geoffrey Keen, Donald Pleasence and Richard O'Sullivan. The film was based on the 1954 novel by Michael Croft and deals with an idealistic schoolteacher coming to a tough area of East London to teach in a secondary modern school at a time when such establishments were largely starved of attention and resources from education authorities and were widely regarded as dumping grounds with sub-par teaching standards, for the containment of non-academically inclined children until they reached the school-leaving age.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caning in Brunei</span> Corporal punishment

Caning is used as a form of judicial corporal punishment in Brunei. This practice is heavily influenced by Brunei's history as a British protectorate from 1888 to 1984. Similar forms of corporal punishment are also used in two of Brunei's neighbouring countries, Singapore and Malaysia, which are themselves former British colonies.

The school strikes of 1911 were a series of mass walkouts of schoolchildren in the United Kingdom, protesting against corporal punishment and poor conditions in schools. Originating in Llanelli, in Wales, at least 62 towns across the UK saw school strikes in September 1911.


  1. "Scottish Review: Carol Craig". www.scottishreview.net. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  2. "CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF SCHOOLGIRLS". aristasia.net. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  3. Linklater, John (26 February 1982). "Victor in belt case set to sue". The Glasgow Herald. p. 1. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  4. "How the tawse left its mark on Scottish pupils". BBC News. 22 February 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  5. Making the Lochgelly Tawse. BBC. 20 February 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  6. "Cash-strapped teachers offer shy collectors six of the best". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 25 August 2002. Retrieved 13 March 2016.